With all of the myriad symptoms which may point to a problem with your health, accurately diagnosing an illness can sometimes feel like throwing darts at a target while blindfolded. For this reason, it is crucial to be aware of all of the possible places where these warning signs may crop up.
While it may seem like a strange indicator, there are quite a few symptoms which affect the tongue. Normally a healthy pink color and covered in a uniform layer of small bumps called papillae, a tongue with any unusual growths or discoloration may actually be an early-warning sign for another more serious malady.
Read on to discover some of the warning signs your tongue may be sending and learn what to look for in order to identify these potentially dangerous symptoms.
1. White Coated Tongue
A tongue with a creamy white coating over its surface is caused by overgrowth of yeast, a condition known as Oral Thrush. While fungi and other colonies of microbes are naturally present in and around our bodies, they sometimes get out of hand and can cause serious health problems.
Often caused by an absence of buccal bacteria which normally keep yeast in check, fungal overgrowth is most commonly a result of the use of antibiotic medications.
It is possible to clear up this condition through more frequent and thorough brushing of your teeth and the surface of your tongue. Adding more probiotic foods to your diet will also go a long way toward rebuilding your body’s natural bacterial colonies which will naturally restore the balance of beneficial microorganisms in your mouth.
2. White Dotted Tongue
If the surface of your tongue is dotted with small white spots, this may also be symptomatic of Oral Thrush. Again, try eating more probiotic foods and step up your daily oral hygiene routine. If the problem persists or worsens, you’ll definitely want to speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
3. Red Tongue
Should your tongue take on an abnormal reddish color, you may have a Streptococcus infection. If you also notice that your throat is scratchy or sore, you’ll definitely want to visit with your doctor for treatment.
In the absence of a sore throat, having a red tongue may simply mean you need to include more B vitamins and iron in your diet. Eat foods like lentils and beans, spinach, lean meat and fish to obtain more of these essential nutrients. You can also follow some of these easy methods to naturally increase your iron levels.
4. Pale or “Bald” Tongue
A healthy tongue looks and feels slightly bumpy due to the multitude of tiny papillae on its surface. If yours appears too smooth or much paler than usual, this may also indicate a deficiency in vitamin B12 or iron which can cause the papillae to atrophy and eventually fall off.
5. Black “Hairy” Tongue
Probably the most visually-disturbing tongue symptom on our list, a black or dark brown hairy-looking coating is caused by excessive bacterial growth on and around the papillae which naturally line the surface of your tongue. Fortunately, there are a couple of easy fixes which can quickly clear up this condition.
Practice better oral hygiene by brushing more frequently and thoroughly. You may also want to try reducing your consumption of high-sugar foods which feed the offending microorganisms and encourage them to grow faster.
Black “hairy” tongue may also be caused by smoking and can be a powerful motivator to help break the addiction.
6. Purple or Bluish Tongue
If your tongue has taken on a purple or bluish hue, this is most likely an indicator of poor circulation. However, in some cases this type of discoloration can result from a nervous system malfunction. Should the problem persist, you’ll definitely want to see your physician.
7. Webbed or Lacy Tongue
A tongue which displays irregular white web-like patterns or pale striping may indicate a problem with your immune system known as Oral Lichen Planus (OLP) – a chronic inflammatory disease which damages the mucus membranes in the mouth. OLP is also characterized by pain or sensitivity inside the mouth and may be accompanied by similar lacy white or red patches on the insides of the cheeks and lips, as well as on the gums and palate. (Read more about how to recognize OLP here.)
If you have any of these symptoms, consult with your doctor as soon as possible as OLP can in some cases develop into a more serious condition.
8. Deep Cracks or Fissures
While shallow lines in the surface of your tongue are fairly common, deep cracks or fissures may also indicate a problem with your immune system which requires professional medical attention.
Even if they prove benign, crevices in the surface of your tongue are ideal places for bacteria to hide. You will want to take extra care in brushing your tongue to prevent infection.
9. Splotchy Tongue
Irregular white or red splotches on the surface of your tongue (also known as “geographic tongue” due to their appearance which often resembles continents on a map) is a harmless condition which is generally caused by mild irritation such as contact with foods that are too hot, spicy or acidic. Tongue splotches may also result from excessive smoking or even from sensitivity to your toothpaste or mouthwash.
10. Painful Sores or Bumps
While they can be quite painful, the occasional small bump on the side of your tongue is usually nothing to worry about. Known as Oral Fibroma, these bumps are usually caused by accidentally biting your tongue in your sleep or from repeated abrasion against a foreign object such as a popcorn husk stuck between your molars.
Painful sores or cankers on the tongue are, in most cases similarly harmless and may result from irritation caused by hot or spicy foods, a weakened immune system
If you have a bump or canker sore on your tongue or anywhere else inside your mouth which lasts for more than 1 week, you should have a your doctor take a look at it for a professional diagnosis.
11. Enlarged Tongue
More common in children than adults, an unusually enlarged tongue – also known as Macroglossia – is often a sign of under-active thyroid. There are many methods to naturally heal an under-active thyroid. (You can read about them here.) However, the discomfort caused by an enlarged or protruding tongue may require you to seek more immediate professional medical advice for you or your child.
12. Small Thin Tongue
A tongue which feels or appears smaller than usual is a sure sign of dehydration. In most cases, you can quickly remedy this condition by increasing your daily water intake. Spend a few minutes with this hydration calculator to determine how much H2O your body needs in a 24 hour period and make it a goal to hit that number ever day.
If the problem persists and you’re fairly certain that you are drinking enough water, you should consult with your doctor to determine a solution.
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